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Hawk Koch, Legendary Movie Producer-Episode #101

Jan 8, 2020 | 0 comments

Veteran movie producer, Hawk Koch, has been intimately involved in the making of more than 60 major motion pictures, among them such memorable classics as Chinatown, Heaven Can Wait, Wayne’ World, Marathon Man, The Way We Were, Primal Fear, Peggy Sue Got Married, and Rosemary’s Baby.

Hawk has also served as President of both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Producers Guild of America. During his tenure at the Academy, Hawk spearheaded several initiatives including a call for diversity. Along with Mark Gordon, Hawk’s co-President of the Producers’ Guild of America, they secured a groundbreaking commitment from all the major studios and independents to uphold the Producer’s mark (p.g.a.).

Hawk has published his brilliant autobiography, Magic Time, which you can find at Amazon.com and fine booksellers everywhere.

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STORYBEAT WITH STEVE CUDEN

STEVE CUDEN INTERVIEWS LEGENDARY MOVIE PRODUCER, HAWK KOCH

ANNOUNCER:

This is StoryBeat, storytellers on storytelling, an exploration into how master storytellers and artists develop and build brilliant stories and works of art that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators of all kinds find success in the worlds of imagination and entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden.

Steve Cuden:

Thanks for joining us on StoryBeat. We’re coming to you from the Center for Media Innovation on the campus of Point Park University in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Well, we’ve got a very special show today. My guest is the extraordinary veteran movie producer, Hawk Koch, who’s been intimately involved in the making of more than 60 major motion pictures, among them such memorable classics as “Chinatown,” “Heaven Can Wait,” “Wayne’s World,” “Marathon Man,” “The Way We Were,” “Primal Fear,” “Peggy Sue Got Married,” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”

Hawk has also served as president of both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and The Producers Guild of America. During his tenure at the Academy, Hawk spearheaded several initiatives including a call for diversity. Along with Mark Gordon, Hawk’s co-president of the Producers Guild of America, they secured a groundbreaking commitment from all the major studios an independence to uphold the producers’ mark, PGA. Hawk has just published his brilliant autobiography, “Magic Time,” which I’ve read and highly recommend. It’s incredibly entertaining. You can find “Magic Time” at amazon.com and find booksellers everywhere. For more information, please visit hawkkoch.com.

Well, this is a huge thrill for me personally because I’ve admired the work of Hawk Koch for a very long time. And this is a terrific honor to have the powerhouse producer, Hawk Koch, as my guest on StoryBeat today. Hawk, welcome to the show.

Hawk Koch:

Thanks, Steve. Quite an introduction. I got tired.

Steve Cuden:

It’s almost like you’ve done a few things.

Hawk Koch:

Well, I don’t know how to stop. I haven’t worked a day in my life. I just love what I do.

Steve Cuden:

Then you don’t work. If you really love it, you aren’t really working, are you?

Hawk Koch:

That’s true. That’s true.

Steve Cuden:

So let’s talk quickly about your book about “Magic Time.” I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and you’ve had one heck of a life. And after producing so many great stories, what I’m wondering is if you wouldn’t tell the listeners what led you to sit down and write about your own story.

Hawk Koch:

Well, I really love mentoring, and I gave a commencement address at Dodge College, at Chapman University. Dodge is the film school there a few years back.

Steve Cuden:

In Orange County.

Hawk Koch:

And a lot of people said they were so inspired. And I went and talked to an agent and said, “I really enjoy speaking to young people, to old people. I really enjoy mentoring and inspiring people to move on with their lives in ways that maybe will make their lives happier.” The agent said, “Do you have a book?” And I said, “No.” She said, “Well, you’re never going to get hired to give speeches unless you have a book. So that’s how it started.

And then once I kind of got into it, I realized that I didn’t want to do a book of just Hollywood stories. That there had to be a spine to it. And the relationship between my father and I really became the spine of the book and it got to be a much deeper book and really kind of cathartic for me to come out and kind of look at everything and how my life has gone by.

Steve Cuden:

So you’re clearly not known as a writer. Did you enjoy the writing process?

Hawk Koch:

I really did. And my wife, Molly Jordan, who is a certified Jungian analyst. That’s a shrink for Carl Jung, is that certified Jungian analyst. She’s a wonderful writer. And she worked with me. It’s kind of interesting. We were going to take a drive from Los Angeles up into the state of Oregon. And I wrote down all the movies in continuity that I’d worked on. And we as we drove the 10 hours, she would hit me with the name of a movie and I talk about kind of the… What was happening on that movie, if there were any good stories on that movie. And then I’d also kind of figure out what was going on in my personal life at that moment. And so we kind of downloaded that and she transcribed it and then we went to work. And it kind of gave us a framework.

Steve Cuden:

I think one of the most fascinating parts of the book is that spine that you talk about your father who was an extremely well-known producer in Hollywood, Howard W. Koch. And that relationship that you had with him and how many ups and downs you had with it. It was fascinating to me. Was it hard for you to dig into that material on your own life?

Hawk Koch:

It wasn’t hard because as I said, my wife’s a shrink and she was able to ask me questions that I really had to go deep into. And my dad’s been gone for what? 18 years now. And so I think I was able to really look at it and understand it. And I think between the bar mitzvah and becoming president of the Academy, I really was able to find my own identity.

Steve Cuden:

We should tell the listeners that you had a bar mitzvah somewhat late in life.

Hawk Koch:

Yeah. I didn’t have one at 13. And I was going through a tough time. And I was talking to a buddy of mine. And he said, “Well, I’ve been to all your children’s bar and bar mitzvahs.” He’s Catholic. And I asked him, he said, “Can you get bar mitzvahed at 50?” And I said, “Wow, I don’t know. But Wow, what a good idea.” So I met with a rabbi. I did some research and found a wonderful, wonderful rabbi. And we talked for about a half hour. I told him a little bit about my life. And then he asked me, he said, “Well, who are you?” And I said quickly, “Oh, I’m a movie producer.” He said, “No, no, no, no. Who are you?” And I said, “Oh, well, I’m a father and I’m a son.”

He kind of got angry. He said, “Well, who are you?” And I didn’t know what to say. And all of a sudden, I don’t know where it came from in me. But I said, “Oh, I’m a Jewish man.” And he said, “That’s a start.” And I knew, “Damn, I’m in trouble with that.” And he said, “What’s your Hebrew name?” And I said, “Well, my parents were non-religious. I don’t have a Hebrew name.” And he said, “Well, for your 50th birthday, for your bar mitzvah, you will be given your own name.” Because my name was Howard W. Koch, Jr. And no matter where I went in my life up until that point, because my dad was such a well-known and well-loved man in the industry, and when I’d be introduced as, “This is Howard Koch, Jr,” they’d say, “Oh, you must be so proud. Your father is such a wonderful man. I mean, God, what he did for me, what he did for my wife, for my sister, for my cousin, please say hello to him for me.” But nobody talked to me. They talked about my father.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Hawk Koch:

So when the rabbi said, “You’ll be given your own name,” I broke down. And he said, “What is it? Why are you crying?” And I said, “I just realized after 49 years, I’ve had my father’s name. I want my own name.” And then he said the words that changed my life. This rabbi said to me, “You could have your own name.” “What? I can have my own name?” He said, “Yeah, why not? You’ve earned whatever. What do you want to be called? Do you want to be called John or Frank or David or whatever?” “No.” He said, “Well, did you ever have a nickname?” And I said, “Well, my initials are HWK. And a few people called me Hawk as a kid, but didn’t really stick. And he said, “Do you know anything about hawks?” And I said, “Yeah, hawks are bird of prey and I’ve been pretty good at that.”

And he said, “Well, hawks mate for life.” And I said, “Well, that’s not in my history.” He said, “Well, they also can see from horizon to horizon, and they can see like a rabbit a half a mile away.” He said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could see the panoramic of your life and the detail always at the same time?” And I thought, “Wow, that’s really something to strive for. But isn’t hawk a pretentious name?” And he said, “It’s only pretentious if you allow it to be.”

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Hawk Koch:

I kind of thought to myself, “Wow, can I really change my name at 50? I had three kids. I had friends. I had acquaintances. I had workers, everybody. I’m going to change my name? What are they going to think of me?” And I went up to Colorado to a wonderful place called Telluride. I walked around and there were hawks flying over the place. And I walked down the street and there was a Native American selling trinkets. And there was a trinket there that had a cloud, a lightning bolt, and the word listen on it. And I asked the Native American, I said, “What does that mean?” And he said, “Do you know how awake, aware and attuned we are to all of our senses between the lightning and the thunder? How we listen. Lightning and thunder, you smell it. You hear it. You see it. You feel it. You taste it.” He said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could be that awake and aware and attuned? Not just between the lightning and the thunder, but all the time in your life. Wouldn’t that be great to strive for?”

And I thought, “Oh, that’s a sign. That A of being awake and aware and attuned is the A I can use with my initials, HWK, and that gives me a reason to be called Hawk.

Steve Cuden:

Isn’t that beautiful?

Hawk Koch:

I came home. And I got bar mitzvahed for my birthday. I changed my name to Hawk. And now and for years after that, instead of going, “Oh, I love your dad and blah, blah, blah,” they would say, “Hey, what a weird name is Hawk?” Or, “What a cool name is Hawk?” Or, “How did you get the name Hawk?” Or, “Has that always been your name?” And they start talking to me as opposed to about my father.

Steve Cuden:

So it was total catharsis for you to go through them.

Hawk Koch:

Yes. Yes.

Steve Cuden:

I mean, the thing about it that’s really a credit to you is that you took and made yourself memorable to others, which is amazing.

Hawk Koch:

I felt like I got seen.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah. A lot of the movies that you’ve worked on are completely memorable to people. They’re totally in the consciousness of the public. And the name Hawk is very memorable name. It’s hard to forget. So I think that’s an amazing thing when you can come to that. Because my name is Steve. But Steve, it’s just a common name. But Hawk is very special. How much research on the book did you need to do beyond your own memory? Or did you not need to do any?

Hawk Koch:

Not much really. I don’t know why I can remember everything. Sometimes I have problems today remembering things, but I remember… It’s really great. My dad had a great memory. And so I guess I got the gene from him. But I really, really love making movies. And I really love the crews. The crews are my family. And we work together. I don’t know if any of you guys are sports fans. But when you watch the Steelers play and you watch them play as a team where not any one guy… what’s his name? So your quarterback’s hurt, but yet, these other quarterbacks have come in and they’ve done okay with the rest of the team that have kind of picked up the rest. Well, that’s the way it is when you’re making a movie.

A lot of people say, “Oh, they go on tour. The director.” I’m sorry. Yes, the director is really important and his vision. But it was my vision first. I generally hired the director. And then we as a team have the same vision as the studio or the person who’s financing. And then we went to the actors, or the actresses and made sure that their vision was the same vision that we had. And all the way down to the cinematographer and the production designer and the sound. I mean, everybody. We’re all in it together.

Steve Cuden:

So you know I’m a screenwriter by trade, and I teach screenwriting here in Pittsburgh and have for almost 10 years. And without the screenwriter or without some idea, what do you have? You don’t really have very much, do you?

Hawk Koch:

No. It all starts with the story. I tell everybody I have a wonderful grandson who’s an assistant editor. And when he was going to school, he was taking all these film classes. He was in film school. And I said, “Take English classes too.” Because everybody I’ve ever talked to, whether you’re a film editor, a cinematographer, a director, producer, whatever it is, you have to know how to tell a story. If you don’t know how to tell a story, you’re not going to be good at any of the crafts that we do. And writing is the first one, boy.

Steve Cuden:

It surely is. I mean, without that storm.

Hawk Koch:

You can know of a story, but if you don’t know how to tell it, it’s not going to go anywhere.

Steve Cuden:

Do you think like I do that the editor is the last writer on the movie?

Hawk Koch:

Oh, yes, absolutely.

Steve Cuden:

Mm-hmm.

Hawk Koch:

Absolutely.

Steve Cuden:

They get to frame it.

Hawk Koch:

It’s kind of a wonderful kind of thing they do. Is when the movie is over, the director and the producer, we all take a break. We’d like to take a big breath and the editor who has been working behind this every day behind us puts his assembly together. And that generally takes two, three, four weeks. He or she is really putting that script, everything we’ve done together. And he gets to do that first.

Steve Cuden:

Right. So we talked very briefly here about school. You did not go to school for filmmaking, did you?

Hawk Koch:

No. Yes, I did go to school for filmmaking-

Steve Cuden:

School of hard knocks.

Hawk Koch:

… being on the set. From the time I was four years old, my dad made B movies in the 50s. And he never took vacations. He took location. And so every summer, Christmas vacation, Presidents’ Day, whatever it was, I was on the set.

Steve Cuden:

Quickly tell the story, which I love, the story of your very, very early experience of being pulled up onto a horse by certain someone famous.

Hawk Koch:

Yeah. My mom took my sister and I, I have an older sister, up to a Colorado, a place called Durango. My dad was making a movie. I didn’t know what that was. I was four years old. And it was 1950. And that gives my age, I guess. God. And my dad took me on the set. I was crying. I didn’t want to leave my mom. And all of a sudden, I saw cowboys and Indians and horses and TPs, and oh my god, I ran around. I was so excited. And a guy came up to me on a horse, looked down and said, “Have you ever been on a horse before?” “No,” I said. And he said, “You want to go for a ride?” “Yeah.” Somebody picked me up, put me in front of them, and I rode around for, I don’t know, probably a minute. Who knows? Five minutes.

The rest of the day, I spent on this movie set just being with everybody. I loved it. Got home that night and my father said, “Guess who gave Little Howie…?” That was me, Little Howie. He was big Howie. “Guess who gave Little Howie his first horseback ride?” “Who?” “Clark Gable.” I mean, I didn’t know who Clark Gable was. He was just a nice man who let me be his ride. Well, that was the start of it. And I’ve loved being on a movie set ever since.

Steve Cuden:

What would you say when you were a little boy and hanging around sets and then hanging around as you got a little older, what would you say were the most important things you learned just by being around it?

Hawk Koch:

You had to know everything that was going on. There’s a term I use. There’s a woman I will not allow on any set or on any meeting and her name is miscommunication. And what I learned on every set is that everybody has to know what’s going on. If the AD and the production manager and the director and the producer don’t let… the production designer, the cinematographer, the grips, the electricians, the craft service guy, if we all don’t know what’s going on… Well, I’ll just go back to a sports analogy again. If eight out of the nine ball players on the Pirates know what’s going on and the right fielder is off somewhere not thinking and the ball’s hit to right field, the guy gets an inside the park home run because he wasn’t paying attention.

Steve Cuden:

Right. Right. I think that’s a huge lesson that you have to know everything that’s going on all around you at all times. We see students all the time that aren’t.

Hawk Koch:

Yeah, you can’t assume. Don’t assume anything. Ask a question. I always talk about most people live in fear. Have courage to ask the question because you don’t know. It’s okay. And it’s okay to tell the truth. Hey, I don’t know this. Can you help me? I know for most people, if somebody asks for help, “Oh my God, I can’t wait to give it.” But if somebody says, “Ah, I don’t need your help. I know everything.” All right. All right. Well, go do it yourself then, buddy. Good luck.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, no kidding. So I assume that your father was a major influence on what you learned and what you know. Are there other producers in your time who you admired and/or admire currently?

Hawk Koch:

Yeah. Mark Gordon is one. For any of you who don’t know Mark, Mark and I were co-presidents of The Producers Guild. But Mark has produced “Saving Private Ryan.” That’s just one pretty good.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, is that all?

Hawk Koch:

And “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Criminal Minds,” “Ray Donovan,” “Jobs,” Steve Jobs, the movie, “Jobs.” He’s just a great, great producer. And he’s a great developer. And he started out from the bottom like I did.

Steve Cuden:

What makes him great? What’s the thing?

Hawk Koch:

He has a great story mind. He is humble and yet he’s able to work with writers and with the whole team in a way that he’s not above. Some producers, some directors are kind of above it all and he’s not. He’s one of us. And because he’s so smart when it comes to story, that’s why he’s been able to get so many movies and so many television shows going, is because he knows how to tell a story and he knows how to get the best out of writing.

Steve Cuden:

When you get a script, would you prefer to help develop the script from the ground up? Or do you prefer it when you’ve got a really good script to start working with?

Hawk Koch:

Either way. If the story is something that really gets me in my gut but it’s not well written and it’s not there yet, then I love developing it. But it sure is fun to get something that you go, “Wow, I don’t have to work too hard. This one’s almost there.” And I love what’s there. I’d say both are different avenues to get it going.

Steve Cuden:

So you’ve probably read thousands of scripts in your life. How often has it happened that one… How often do they come in where they’re sort of good to go almost?

Hawk Koch:

Are the dinosaurs still walking around this earth? Very rarely. But it has happened. I mean, there had to be work done on it. But man, Robert Towne’s draft of “Chinatown” was pretty goddamn good.

Steve Cuden:

Pretty good. That’s my favorite script of all time.

Hawk Koch:

So I hit you with the right one then.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah. And there’s one scene in it that is absolutely my favorite scene of all scenes of all time. And that’s the one at the club between Gittes and Cross when Cross is talking about old buildings and whores and politicians. That scene, to me, is just the greatest scene ever written.

Hawk Koch:

Yeah. He’s quite a writer, Bob. I just had lunch with him a couple of weeks ago. He’s very special.

Steve Cuden:

So when you’re working with writers, what would you say are the things that make writers… So what suggestions might you have for writers to make them more viable in Hollywood? What is it that the great writers do that the other writers do not quite do as much of?

Hawk Koch:

I would say build characters that people can relate to. That even though you might… Dialogue is less important than what’s happening inside the character. That’s what I would say. And even your example of the scene between Noah Cross and Jake Gittes in “Chinatown,” yes, all that stuff is being said, but underneath it, it’s the tete a tete between those two-

Steve Cuden:

The subtext.

Hawk Koch:

… is what brings that scene to life. You know what I mean?

Steve Cuden:

I do. It’s all subtextual.

Hawk Koch:

Exactly. The subtext is what actors look for, directors look for, and studio executives look for. And a story that just you go, “Oh my God.” And stuff that we didn’t know. What I’m really happy about this year, there’s an awful lot of original movies, not just sequels and remakes.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, I agree.

Hawk Koch:

And I’m hoping that studios and financers will go, “Wow, you know what? Crazy Rich Asians worked. That’s not a sequel. Moonlight worked. That’s not a sequel.” I’m not talking about this year, but I’m talking about… “Green Book” wasn’t a sequel. I’m kidding to think about this year’s stuff.

Steve Cuden:

“Moonlight” was not a sequel although it-

Hawk Koch:

Yeah, “Moonlight” wasn’t a sequel.

Steve Cuden:

Although it was an adaptation. And sometimes, adaptations are very valuable.

Hawk Koch:

Yeah, but that’s okay. Adaptations are great. I’ve adapted several scenes over my career.

Steve Cuden:

I think adaptations are very valuable as long as they don’t become repetitive. That’s all.

Hawk Koch:

Right. Right.

Steve Cuden:

Right. Let’s talk for a moment about pitching because I’m curious. You’ve obviously pitched a lot in your life and you’ve been pitched to a lot. What do you believe are the elements of good pitching that helped to sell a story in a room?

Hawk Koch:

Good pitching is short, concise. You have to be passionate about your subject. And you have to have a subject that is absolutely worthy of somebody else’s time. A good pitch can’t be more than a half hour. 20 minutes would be perfect. Some people pitch 45 minutes, and believe me, you can’t wait to get that person out of the room. Because why don’t you just send me the script already? And by the way, it’s really hard to sell a pitch unless it’s something that we’ve read about in the newspapers. I mean, even today, right now, Clint Eastwood has been trying to get “Richard Jewell” made for what? 10, 15 years and nobody would do it. And if somebody said, “Here’s the pitch. A security guard at the Atlanta Olympics, people think he’s guilty and the truth is he was a hero. And everybody was down on him and how it was turned around.” And you go, “Oh, man, I don’t want to do that. Another thing about a bombing?” Well, look at the reviews, and I can’t wait to see it. I haven’t seen it yet.

Steve Cuden:

You’re alluding to a really important topic, which is if someone like a Clint Eastwood who’s about as famous and powerful as you get, has trouble getting a story produced, how do the rest of people get stories produced?

Hawk Koch:

Yeah. You got to have the rights to something really… Believe me, pitching is the hardest thing to get done. It’s because studios and financers know that’s a really long process. I would say to the writers out there or the producers out there that think they’re going to pitch something, write it down, buddy. Write at least a treatment. Really, write a 10 page treatment that really goes in depth about what you want to do, or write the screenplay. Get it to an agent or a lawyer and have it given to a producer or a studio, right? You have a much better shot than thinking that you’re just going to pitch it to somebody.

Steve Cuden:

All right. So let’s talk about producing, actual producing for a moment. In the movies you’ve worked on, do you have one that’s your most favorite?

Hawk Koch:

My most favorite that became… You mean the process of producing a movie or just the most favorite of the movies that I produce?

Steve Cuden:

Well, either or both. What did you enjoy producing?

Hawk Koch:

I really enjoyed the making of “Primal Fear.”

Steve Cuden:

Why?

Hawk Koch:

First of all, William Diehl who wrote the book actually came to Gary Lucchesi and I at the premiere, and said, “I’ve done a bunch of books that became movies, and none of them, I was happy with. I’m really happy with this. You guys did a great job.” So that’s number one, that the author of the book felt like we did a great job with his book. Number two, we were able to discover one of the great actors in the world, Edward Norton. Nobody knew who he was. He had never made a movie. You can read in my book how that happened. And he’s still a friend of mine. He’s still an amazing, amazing filmmaker. Hopefully, you’ll get to see “Motherless Brooklyn.” So that was great.

Hawk Koch:

Getting to work with Michael Chapman, one of the great cinematographers and Jeannine Oppewall, one of the great production designers. To work with Richard Gere and to work with my buddy, Gary, and great director, Greg Hoblit. We went on and did a bunch of movies together. He won eight Emmys for “LA Law,” “Hill Street Blues,” and “NYPD Blue.” And we had a great relationship with the studio. The studio allowed us to make the movie we wanted to make. David Rosenbloom was a great editor. And it was fun to make the movie because we were all… we all had the same vision. And the movie turned out to be a success.

Steve Cuden:

And that certainly sweetens the-

Hawk Koch:

That’s a pretty good job of producing.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, that sweetens the deal when it’s a success. All right. So let’s talk about how-

Hawk Koch:

Sorry, one second.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, sure.

Hawk Koch:

I forgot to mention Ann Biderman.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, Ann Biderman.

Hawk Koch:

Who came in as a writer on it and did an amazing job. Steve Zaillian did a draft that kind of got us going. There were a lot of drafts of that script till it finally got to the position where we could make it.

Steve Cuden:

Am I correct that Ann Biderman created and ran “Ray Donovan” for a long time?

Hawk Koch:

Yes, yes, that was Ann.

Steve Cuden:

That’s one of the best TV shows. That’s just a crazy good show.

Hawk Koch:

Yeah. Well, Ann’s a hell of a writer.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, that’s really obvious when you watch the show for sure. All right. What are the steps that a producer must take? Once you have the script, you’ve secured either an option or the rights to it in some way, what are the steps that you begin to take to go toward a production?

Hawk Koch:

First, you’ve got to find financing. There’s lots of different ways. You could go to a studio just with the script. You can go to an independent financer just with the script. In today’s world, it’s better to have a package. Meaning, do you have a director? It could be a first time director, but the studios or the financers know what he’s done. He’s won an Academy Award for a short, or he made a great short. When I say he, I mean he or she please. I’ve worked with several female directors and they’re great. So I apologize.

Steve Cuden:

Well, that’s a pronoun issue.

Hawk Koch:

Yes. If you have a director, great. If you have an actor or an actress that also wants to do it, fantastic. You have that much more going for you. Once you have that fine answer, and you’ve got that director and you’ve got that actor, then your job is and your job even before that is the studio or the financer is going to ask you what it’s going to cost. Well, you better know what it’s going to cost. So I hope you know how to make a budget, or at least hire somebody to do a budget for you. To understand about tax incentives, rebates in states or in international places. So when the studio says, “How much is it going to cost?” You can give them an estimate. And you could be somebody who they respect as someone who knows how much it’s going to cost. So you’ve done your research. You’ve done your work. It’s like you go to the market and already on the shelf is an Impossible burger, which I started eating. They’re great.

Steve Cuden:

They are great.

Hawk Koch:

Huh?

Steve Cuden:

They are great. I love them.

Hawk Koch:

Yeah. Well, you know upfront because of the packaging. It’s been packaged. It tells you how many calories, how much protein, how much cholesterol, yada, yada, yada. And then you can make a decision. Do you want this kind of Impossible burger from so and so or that one? You get to choose. You’re the financer because you’re paying at the market for that cheese or that Impossible burger or that piece of chicken. Do you want the organic chicken or just the chicken from your local supermarket that you know is good? Or you have a butcher. They do the marketing and you’re the financer. You’re going to buy. As a producer, you have to make those decisions. And you have to know, “Ah, what is the studio or finance are going to want to know?” You got to do all the work first.

Steve Cuden:

Mm-hmm. I think you’ve said something new here today. I think you’re the first person ever to compare motion picture production to impossible burgers, but that works for me.

Hawk Koch:

I mean, still going. You’re not done producing yet.

Steve Cuden:

No.

Hawk Koch:

What you’re doing… Once you get the money, once you get somebody to say yes, they’re not going to say, “Yes, green light.” You’ve got to get the rest of the cast. You got to put all the crew together. You got to find the locations. You got to make sure that if you told them it’s going to cost 30 million or three million, that that’s what it’s going to cost. And if it’s going to cost more, you got to go back to that studio or financer and say, “Hey, I was wrong. It’s going to cost 32 or it’s going to cost 35 or it’s going to cost 100.” And then you’ve got to be able to get them to say yes again. And then when you actually get to make the movie, you’re there with the director and you’re working to decide what the look of the movie is going to be and why you’re going to choose this cinematographer as opposed to that one. And then when you start to make them, you’re in casting and deciding who’s going to play each part.

Steve Cuden:

How important is casting?

Hawk Koch:

Oh, I would say it’s about 80% of the performances you’re going to get. I’d say that’s pretty important.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah. So I’m sorry, I interrupted. Go on. What else do you have to do next?

Hawk Koch:

No, no, no, you’re absolutely right. I mean, casting is so… To everybody, not just the main stars, but all the way down because if there’s any scene that doesn’t feel truthful, you’re in trouble.

Steve Cuden:

You’re in trouble is correct. Anything that throws the audience out is a problem.

Hawk Koch:

Exactly. It takes them out of the movie. “Oh, I don’t believe that person.” So anyway, so then you’re on the set. And you’re watching and because I’m one of those producers, I’m on the set every day. Whatever you’re going to shoot that day, you’re going to do, let’s say, the scene between Noah Cross and Gittes. Well, I’m sitting in the back if I’m the producer and I’m saying, “Okay, what do we need to get out of this scene? Why is this scene important to the movie? Is the subtext there? Do I believe the actors?” That’s what the producer is doing. He’s not worrying about focus. That’s for the assistant cameraman. He’s not worried about performance. That’s the director. He’s not worried about the lighting. That’s the cinematographer. He’s not worried about what the set looks like although all those things are important to him, but he’s looking to say, “Is that going to work for the movie?”

Hawk Koch:

And he’s being a psychologist and a psychiatrist because the actor had a problem with his wife the night before, or the cinematographer has the flu. Or so and so got in a fight with so and so. You’re putting out fires if they’re there, and hopefully, you’re stopping fires before they ever start. And you’re doing that day after day for 24 days if it’s a little independent, or a hundred days if it’s a huge movie.

Steve Cuden:

You’ve become an expert at putting out those fires, haven’t you?

Hawk Koch:

Oh, yeah. Well, you try. Doesn’t always happen, but you can’t give up. The world of a producer is there’s no such thing as no. Somebody says, “This can’t work.” I said, “Oh, really? Well, we’re going to find a way to make it work because we asked them to be. You have to get it to work.”

Steve Cuden:

Would you say that that quality is critical that you don’t really hear the word no? You’re just getting a, “Go a different way?”

Hawk Koch:

Yes. I remember I was doing a movie called “Keeping The Faith” in New York with Edward Norton and Ben Stiller. Edward was directing his first movie, and there was a scene that was going to take place at the museum on Fifth Avenue, the big Art Museum, 81st and 5th. And everybody said, “Oh, you can never shoot in there. Nobody will ever let you shoot in there.” I looked at the production manager and the art director or production designer and I said, “What do you mean now? We’re going to find a way to be able to shoot in there.” And they said, “Oh, it’s never happened. Never happened.” Well, I with my contacts, I started to go through things.

Hawk Koch:

And long story short, I got a meeting with the heads of the museum. The art director put a model together. And we described how we were going to do it, how we were going to get in there on a Sunday night once the museum was closed. They’re closed on Mondays, and how we were going to rejig certain areas of the museum. And that we would film from eight in the morning till six o’clock at night. And at six o’clock at night, everybody would come in and clean out, get everything out. And by 10 o’clock Tuesday morning when the museum opens, they wouldn’t even know we were there. And I got a yes.

Steve Cuden:

Wow.

Hawk Koch:

And I got a yes because I wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

Steve Cuden:

And that quality is what I think makes great producers great. Don’t you agree?

Hawk Koch:

Well, I don’t know if I’m a great producer. I know I love what I do and I try, but that’s the same way with anything. I’m still working on projects I’ve been working on forever. That I’m not taking no. We’re going to get these movies made. And I think that’s a quality that you have to have. I always say producer bangs his head against a brick wall a thousand times. And the 999 time, all of a sudden, the way he hit the brick wall comes down, and how? Wow, you got a movie to make.

Steve Cuden:

How many years did you work in the early part of your career as a production manager or line producer or whatever the title might have been? How many years did you do that before you stepped up to being…?

Hawk Koch:

As an AD, I started as an AD in 1968. Then I started doing kind of line producing and production managing stuff in 1974. And then I started really producing my own in 1979. So I guess I did five years of line producing, production managing. But understand that even 1979 when I was creatively producing, and I continue to line produce, I believe that you can’t be a great producer unless you’re doing both the creative and the line. You have to understand the whole process.

Steve Cuden:

When you see producers today who don’t have those experiences, do you see any kind of a deficit in the way that they work? Do you see a problem for that?

Hawk Koch:

Well, yes, I do. I think that if they believed in something, and they give the responsibility over to the director and the production designer and the cinematographer and they have nothing left to do with it, I don’t think that… When the movie is a huge success, you know that famous saying. Success has many…?

Steve Cuden:

Success has many friends?

Hawk Koch:

Yeah, it has many friends. And when it’s a bomb, “Oh, I had nothing to do with it.” Hey, I’ve got it made, but-

Steve Cuden:

Failure is an orphan.

Hawk Koch:

… it’s the director’s fault.

Steve Cuden:

I think failure is an orphan.

Hawk Koch:

I’ve made some movies that I’m very proud of that didn’t do any business. And I’m still proud of them. And I still feel really good about getting them made. And I’ve got some movies that I made that just weren’t any good and I feel bad that we spent the money on them.

Steve Cuden:

But nobody ever sets out to make a bad movie, do they?

Hawk Koch:

No.

Steve Cuden:

You’re always trying to make a great movie, but that doesn’t always work out.

Hawk Koch:

Yes, that’s true.

Steve Cuden:

Do you have any notion in your head from all these years as to what separates one from the other? Or is it just really ephemeral?

Hawk Koch:

I think there’s the really great scripts that you know, “Man, this is a great script. Let’s not screw it up.” And a lot of those become great and some don’t. I think I knew doing “The Way We Were” and “Chinatown” and “Marathon Man” and “Heaven Can Wait” and “Wayne’s World” and “Primal Fear,” I think I knew that they were really good movies. And then there are some that I went, “Wow. I hope this works. I’m not really sure.” I’m just going to think of “Murder on the Orient Express.” I don’t know why. But my friend Mark Gordon did the new one-

Steve Cuden:

The remake, yeah.

Hawk Koch:

… a couple years ago. It’s something that had been done before. They got terrific actors, but the story was kind of similar to what they had done before. But they got a great director. And was it going to work? Was it going to work? We didn’t know. So I went, “Yeah, it was fun.” But was it going to work for an audience? Well, the picture went out and did great. You know?

Steve Cuden:

Right.

Hawk Koch:

And people really enjoyed it. It was time to do it again. And yet, when they did the remake of “Ghostbusters,” or the remake of “Charlie’s Angels,” boom, right in the toilet.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, right in the toilet.

Hawk Koch:

Right in the toilet. I didn’t see the movie. I haven’t seen it yet. Maybe it wasn’t any good. But in today’s world, because everything is so quick, because of social media, everybody knows immediately what works and what doesn’t. Boy, do they stay away from the theater or boy do they go to the theater. I remember my dad’s movie, “Ghost,” before social media, but the people who saw it on Friday night when it opened must have called everybody they knew and said, “You’ve got to go see this movie.” I think one of the records that’s still standing is the difference in people who came on a Friday night to Saturday night was something like a 75% jump.

Steve Cuden:

Wow.

Hawk Koch:

Because everybody that saw it on Friday night loved it and called their friends. And by Saturday night, “Ghost” was a huge smash.

Steve Cuden:

So social media is a form of word of mouth, but is there any substitute for word of mouth? In other words, I’ll tell you why I asked that question. Years ago, I was in a class that Peter Guber, the famous producer taught. In that class, he said that the studios are… This is 10 years ago. He said that the studios are wasting their money on advertising in newspapers, magazines, and on radio. And he said, “What you really need to do is to figure out how to drive social media and word of mouth.” Do you think that that’s true today?

Hawk Koch:

Yes. And so by social media, because of Rotten Tomatoes and those other sites, the critics do have things to say. But word of mouth, social media is definitely it. And then especially this time of year, as the awards are being nominated, hopefully, some people are looking and going, “Wow, if five different critical awards people are saying that, maybe I should go see that one.”

Steve Cuden:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). You can see it. You can see it unfold. When two people tell four people and four people tell eight, it just grows fast. And you can spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising that nobody cares about, then you have a problem. That is for sure. I’m going to ask you a question that I ask lots of guests. And I think it’s a really challenging question, but I love the answers I get and that is, what for you makes a good story good? How do you know it’s a good story?

Hawk Koch:

I would say I get the chills. I laugh. It gets me in my gut. I care about it. I think it’s one of the great lines that a fabulous producer named David Brown said a long time ago. They’re called moving pictures. So if it moves me, that’s a good story.

Steve Cuden:

So it’s a personal connection to the story. It’s not an academic connection. It’s in your guts.

Hawk Koch:

Yeah. I go to see a lot of movies that I go, “Wow, that was a good movie.” Didn’t get me in the gut, but it was a good movie. But it wasn’t something I wanted to get involved with.

Steve Cuden:

You recognize the craft is very good. The performances may be great. But there’s something that just didn’t hit you. Yeah?

Hawk Koch:

Right. Yeah.

Steve Cuden:

What we teach here, and I think you’ll concur, that the movie business is the passion business. It’s not really the intellectual business. That you got to be smart and use your brains along to make these things. But you’re selling passion. Is that correct?

Hawk Koch:

Yes. You’re selling a moving picture. It moves you. It moves you as a horror movie, as a drama, as a comedy, as a historical piece, as a political piece, it moves you.

Steve Cuden:

So for those who don’t know who David Brown was, he was partnered for a long time with Darryl Zanuck.

Hawk Koch:

David Zanuck.

Steve Cuden:

I’m sorry, David Zanuck. Correct. Darryl was his father. And they made “Jaws” and “The Sting” and a whole bunch of really amazing movies.

Hawk Koch:

Oh, “The Verdict.” Oh, yeah.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, some really amazing movies. So you’ve clearly worked with lots of famous people. You’ve known lots of stars. What is it that you think, can you put your finger on what makes a star a star?

Hawk Koch:

No.

Steve Cuden:

You have no idea.

Hawk Koch:

I think number one, their personality because I think their personality comes through. I never got to work with Humphrey Bogart, but I sure would have loved to.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, boy. Okay.

Hawk Koch:

He had that something special. I never got to work with Audrey Hepburn. But boy did she have something special. I have gotten to work with Barbra Streisand and Paul Newman and Robert Redford and Goldie Hawn and just on and on, Edward Norton. They’re very smart. I think they’re curious. I think curiosity never stops with them. And I think that goes for great directors too like Sydney Pollack and Roman Polanski and Alan Pakula and Warren Beatty. I think curiosity, they never stop pulling everything they can from you. Some of them don’t want to give anything back. But no, I think curiosity. I think there are okay talents. There’s real talent. And then there’s the geniuses. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of those geniuses.

Steve Cuden:

Really, no kidding.

Hawk Koch:

Well, yeah. I mean, I believe that Sydney Pollack was a genius director.

Steve Cuden:

No question.

Hawk Koch:

He knew how to get a script to where it needed to be. And he knew how to work with the actors. And he loved moving the camera. I think Polanski was and is a great, great director, genius director. We don’t have to talk about all the other stuff too, just a director.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, sure.

Hawk Koch:

I think Barbra is one of the super talents of any lifetime.

Steve Cuden:

No question.

Hawk Koch:

I think Paul Newman, the same way. I mean, look at what Paul Newman did. Aside from the great movies and the great actors, look what he did for the world.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, the charity? Unbelievable.

Hawk Koch:

I don’t know if all your people know it, but the Paul Newman… the popcorns and the salad dressings and everything else, that doesn’t go to his heirs. That goes to charity.

Steve Cuden:

100% of profits.

Hawk Koch:

All of that goes to the Paul Newman Foundation. I mean, what a human being this guy was. Redford, same thing. So much about the environment.

Steve Cuden:

And Sundance. Just Sundance alone.

Hawk Koch:

And Sundance. So these people are a step above.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, no question. I guess it’s long been called the it factor and nobody can really define it. I just wonder-

Hawk Koch:

Well, I don’t know what answers you got from other people. I don’t know how to define it. But I know it when I see it.

Steve Cuden:

Most people can’t, but I like to ask the question because I think it’s a really curious question. How does someone become a star? Well, I don’t think you can really set out to be a star. Or do you know people that have done that? They’ve set out to be a star and then became a star?

Hawk Koch:

Jack.

Steve Cuden:

Jack. That’s a pretty good example.

Hawk Koch:

Yeah, I think Jack is one that wanted, “Hey, man, I’m going to be a movie star.” I don’t know that he really believed it. But he said it and he actually became it.

Steve Cuden:

He’s certainly one of the most unique characters in the whole history of Hollywood. That’s for sure.

Hawk Koch:

He is. He is.

Steve Cuden:

He’s definitely one off. There’s nothing else like him. So a couple more questions. I just wonder, you obviously have worked over time where you have many projects in the pipeline at the same time. Or when you’re working on a big production and you have a lot of items to deal with. I’m wondering, do you have a trick or a technique that you use to keep everything straight?

Hawk Koch:

Honestly, I think I’m weak at that. I’m weak. I think once I’ve got a movie going, I really have to put everything else on the back burner because I feel a responsibility to the financers. Whether it’d be a studio or an independent financer. That they’ve put their trust in me to go ahead and make this movie. And if I’m off thinking about others, I’m not doing my job.

Steve Cuden:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Good. So it’s about focus then. Once you’ve focused… Right. So now once you’re in production, are you pretty good at just keeping track of all the various moving parts?

Hawk Koch:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, that comes from learning as an assistant director. I can still stand on a set, or unfortunately, it’s bad news. When I’m in a restaurant, I can hear all the conversations at all the different tables. And I can watch everybody around and know what’s going on.

Steve Cuden:

Really?

Hawk Koch:

Because that’s the job of the assistant director.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah. And you just do that naturally now just because you’ve been doing it so long.

Hawk Koch:

Yes. Yes.

Steve Cuden:

That’s amazing. That must certainly must have helped you when you produced the Oscars. Yeah?

Hawk Koch:

Yes. Yeah.

Steve Cuden:

What was that experience like?

Hawk Koch:

That was as exciting and fun as anything I’ve ever done, was president of the Oscars. That was a thrill beyond beyond.

Steve Cuden:

I would imagine because you’re dealing with the biggest show in the world.

Hawk Koch:

Well, you’re dealing with the biggest show and you’re dealing with the academy itself, the governors, the board of governors are three… From each branch, there are three governors. Sound, art direction, costume design, actors, writers, directors, producers, executives, shorts, animation.

Steve Cuden:

Management. Yeah, mm-hmm.

Hawk Koch:

So the best of the best are these governors. They’ve been elected by their own branches. So to sit in a room with them and to preside over that, and to be able to have an agenda and things that I wanted to get done at the academy and to be able to get most of them accomplished, boy, that was just a great, great feeling.

Steve Cuden:

So that came, I assume, with a lot of pressure. And all of your shoots are pressure-packed. What do you do to deal with pressure?

Hawk Koch:

Do you want me to tell the Redford story?

Steve Cuden:

Sure, absolutely.

Hawk Koch:

So in working with Redford on the first movie that I worked with him and it was only his second movie, he wasn’t a major star yet. We became friends. And one day he said to me, “Hey, I got to drive up to Utah. I built this eight frame house. I got to drive up. You want to drive with me and we’ll share the road. We’ll share driving starting Friday night when we wrap and we’ll come back and be ready for work Monday morning.”

Steve Cuden:

Just you and Robert Redford in the car together for two days.

Hawk Koch:

Yeah, 1965. And so he drove the first lap from LA to Vegas. And then I was driving, and we’re about an hour and a half out of Vegas. Not super highways, but a highway. Pitch black, no full moon, and no cities around. And all of a sudden, Redford said, “Pull off. Pull off this road. Get on the side road.” And I said, “Why Bob?” He said, “Just pull off.” I’d only known the guy eight weeks. What the hell? “Pull off the road.” All right. I pulled off and got on a side road. And I’m driving for a couple of minutes and he says, “Turn right here.” I said, “That’s a dirt road.” He said, “Turn right here.” Holy shit. I’m scared out of my mind. I make a turn onto this dirt road. And he said, “Stop the car.” I said, “What?” And he boomed. He pushed the gearshift into parking, grabbed the keys, and he said, “Get out.” I mean, we’re in the middle of nowhere. I mean nowhere. It’s dark.

If you know cartoons, my heart was coming out of my chest, so scared. I was looking for a gun, a knife. I don’t know what the hell the guy is going to do. And I got out on one side of the hood. And he was on the other side. He looked at me with a really, really mean face. And I’m looking at, “Do I run?” I couldn’t run. My legs were like lead. And then all of a sudden, he proceeded to scream. “Oh.” Really loud for like a minute. I’m looking at him like, “Who is this guy? He’s crazy. He’s out of his mind.” He smiled when it was over. He threw me the keys and he said, “Try it.” He said, “It’s good for you.” Well, “I went…” That’s all I could get out. We got back in the car. I was still shaking.

And as we’re driving on the main road again, he explained about Arthur Janov and “The Primal Scream” and how it really allows you to relieve the stress. So as president of the Academy, I was going to go out in front of 1.3 billion people and have to speak. So just before they were going to introduce me, I went outside the Dolby Theater and I proceeded to do Redford’s primal scream. Came back in, said to myself, “Magic time,” and went out on the stage. And hey, I did a pretty good job. And I stood up straight. I got to look down into the audience. So many of the people in the audience were people I’d worked with over the years. It really gave me confidence to keep going.

Steve Cuden:

What a great, great story? I’ve had the great privilege here today to speak for an hour with the author of “Magic Time,” his autobiography, Hawk Koch. Hawk, can you leave us with a good piece of advice or a tip for those who are trying to make it in the business? I know you’ve given us lots of great advice already. But do you have anything specific to lend the listeners?

Hawk Koch:

Well, if you want to be an actor, act. If you want to be a director, direct. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be a cinematographer, shoot. If you want to be a producer, produce. You don’t have to do it in Hollywood. If you want to be famous, good luck. Maybe you will be the cream of the crop but direct a little movie. Today with the iPhone, you can do anything you want. If it’s good… It’s a short, it’s a one minute thing. Do it. Keep doing it. If you love it, don’t worry about being famous. Keep doing what you love in your life. That would be my tip.

Steve Cuden:

I think that that is such solid sound advice. If you don’t love what you’re doing, why are you doing it? And if you do love it, do it.

Hawk Koch:

Have fun, guys. Have fun. If you’re not having fun in your life, find something else to do.

Steve Cuden:

Absolutely. Well, speaking of fun, this has been an enormous amount of fun. I thank you so much for coming on the show today, Hawk. I’m very grateful.

Hawk Koch:

Well, it’s great to talk to you. I loved your questions, Steve. And good luck and I hope to see out here someday soon.

Steve Cuden:

And so we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat. If you like this podcast, please take a moment to give us a comment, rating, or review on whatever app or platform you’re listening to. Your support helps us bring more great episodes to you. This podcast would not have been possible without the generous support of the Center for Media Innovation on the campus of Point Park University. Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden, and may all your stories be unforgettable.

Executive Producer: Steve Cuden, Producer: Casey Georgi, Announcer: Javier Grajeda
Social Media: Mina Hoffman, Design & Marketing: Holly Reed, Reed Creative Group

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